out of Five
Running time: 90
Outrageous, filthy and often hysterically funny, this is John Waters' best film since Serial Mom. It’s only on limited release so catch it now before it disappears.
If you’ve never seen a John Waters film before, then, frankly, you’re in for something of a treat. Waters made his name as the self-styled “Pope of Trash” with films such as Pink Flamingoes (which famously featured Divine eating a genuine dog turd on camera) and Desperate Living before edging ever-so-slightly towards the mainstream with films such as Hairspray and Cry-Baby.
Outrageous Sexual Satire With A Bit Of Everything
His latest film, A Dirty Shame, is an outrageous sexual satire that seems to have a bit of everything thrown in - it’s part zombie movie (sort of), part 1950s exploitation pic, part 1930s "Youth In Peril" flicks (e.g. Reefer Madness), part Russ Meyer movie and part multi-Jekyll and Hyde story. The result is frequently hilarious and, as such, it’s Waters’ best film since Serial Mom.
The plot revolves around a Baltimore neighbourhood being invaded by Sex
Addicts (led by Johnny Knoxville's Jesus-like Ray Ray) and their clashes with the uptight, undersexed 'Neuters'. It turns out that sex addiction is caused by concussion, so every time you meet a new character (with a new perversion), you get a little slapstick snapshot in the top corner of the screen, showing you how they got their bump on the head.
One such concussion victim is Sylvia Stickles (Tracy Ullman), who transforms from grumpy repressed housewife to a full-on sex fiend after a minor car accident, much to the dismay of her husband Vaughn (Chris Isaak) and mother, Big Ethel (Suzanne Shepherd).
The film works surprisingly well as a satire on America’s different attitudes to sex, despite its decidedly scattergun approach. Waters researched the film meticulously and all the perversions in the film are based in fact, as are the various rants by the Neuters (e.g. the ‘restored virgin’ procedure). In fact, the perversions actually form part of the plot, as Ray Ray believes Sylvia’s "12th apostle" can help him discover a new sex act and lead the Sex Addicts to a sexual enlightenment.
Characters Wildly Over The Top
Waters’ characters are always wildly over the top so the performances are kind of beside the point, but Tracy Ullman is hilarious both as sex addict and prude and Chris Isaak is surprisingly good as the dopey husband. There’s also strong support from the likes of Waters regular Mink Stole as Marge the Neuter and Suzanne Shepherd, who gets most of the best lines as Big Ethel.
Special mention, however, must go to Selma Blair and her “criminally enlarged breasts” - she plays Sylvia’s daughter Candice (aka Ursula Udders), who is under house arrest for several “nude and disorderly” violations, such as nude loitering.
The script is chaotic and mostly consists of characters shouting at each other, but it’s packed full of quotable lines and the whole thing builds to a literal climax that’s both outrageous and as in-your-face as it’s possible to be. In addition there’s a hilarious soundtrack composed of suggestive, supposedly innocent rockabilly songs (e.g. Tony’s Got Hot Nuts, The Pussy Cat Song) and the film features everything from horny CGI squirrels, to an inspired David Hasselhoff cameo. You'll also never think of the hokey cokey quite the same way again…
In short, if you’re a Waters fan then this is definitely worth seeing, but it will also appeal to anyone who cried tears of laughter during Team America. Sadly, it’s getting a despicably limited release so make sure you catch it before it disappears. Recommended.